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A short story by

Matthew Maxwell

Loew ran. She felt as if she were floating, pushing through heavy water or lead. Behind her fell diminishing gunfire.

Twenty meters to the gates, maybe less. A ragged company of colonists urged her on to safety.

There were shrieks behind her, and the clattering sound of claws on stone. The creatures flowed to either side of her so quickly that she felt as if she were standing still. They leaped ahead and into the stunned colonists, slicing into the humans. These weren't soldiers. There was no contest.

A handful of hydras stopped in front of Loew and wheeled around. They brandished their scythe blades and hissed with their mouths open wide, red and wet.

She halted, almost falling over.

The firing behind her came to an end. All that was left was the sound of meat and bone. She was surrounded. Her breath rattled around like a sparrow in a blast furnace.

The zerg stood down. Claws lowered, some of them still wet. Her eyes darted around, but she didn't move. She didn't turn her head. She just held her breath, still as a stone.

As one, the zerg moved on, leaping or slithering away. She let herself breathe again. There was no explanation. Maybe it was enough that the last order had been fulfilled. Maybe she'd been imprinted upon them.

In any case, she was safe. She was clear. The zerg had departed. She allowed herself a step toward the refinery gates. Perhaps there was a way to call for help.

But she couldn't shake the memory of the hydralisk tongue slithering between her fingers, tugging angrily. She wanted to cut off her hand even now to rid herself of it. Revulsion twisted and kicked inside her like a nest of snakes hatching. Her hand was still wet, and that nauseating feeling seemed as if it would never go away, never let go of her.

Gravel crunched behind her, ripping the thought away. She knew the source without looking. It was a hydralisk, belly plates muscling into the ground.

She turned her head slowly.

The sun glinted off the metal plate in Dennis's skull. It could only be him. He watched her with expectation, as though she had a bag of meat scraps that she might throw to him at any second if he was a good boy.

He chuffled once, impatient this time.

"Dennis?" She couldn't believe it. But then again, he had been her first and most successful subject. He would be the most loyal. He would be the last to shake her control.

She looked at the overrun colony gates and then back at him. He was rosy in the pink of midmorning, relaxed but not unprepared.

Loew slowly took a step toward him. Maybe she could rebuild her project. This was just a setback. But now she could start over without Dominion interference. The PPO lived on in him. She could take what she'd learned and wipe out the zerg threat. She could—

Dennis's eyes narrowed as he raised his arms. There was no need to hurry. She was soft and without defenses.

"No," she whispered. "No, no, no. Not you. Not you."

She darted away but was nowhere near fast enough to outrun him.

* * * * *

The Queen of Blades narrowed her focus for a moment, reaching out from Char and into the perceptions of her children on Thys. She narrowed further, tasting the rush of pursuit as she rode along with the hydralisk.

Kerrigan could feel the hot and empty wind, smell the blood of the fallen, taste the agony and fear of the lone, stupid woman who'd sought to take what was hers and hers alone.

Still, the woman had given her an incredible opportunity. Trade several foot soldiers for how many Dominion brains? Pawns for bishops and rooks and even a pretender queen? Her only regret was that she would not see Mengsk's face as he heard of it.

The Queen of Blades relished the perfume of the woman's fear, just a step or two ahead of her former pet. She decided that she would let the false queen run for a little longer.

But only a little.

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